Well, another year gone and what interesting times these are to be working in the built environment. 2013 was a good year for us, with plenty of exciting projects undertaken and lots of new initiatives lined up for 2014. Here is a quick recap:
Didcot has plans to grow the town by over 2,000 new homes, and TransForm Places are acting as expert advisor on design issues. Key to the success of any new development will be integration with the existing community, allowing new residents to support the town centre and to make those trips by modes other than the private car.
TransForm Places ran a number of workshops designed to explore ideas as to how the proposed urban extension at Barton, Oxford could come forward in a way that creates a sustainable community. Key to this will be the treatment of the A40, the integration of the new development with the existing community in Barton, and the accessibility of the City and its facilities for new residents.
A fascinating project with a great group was conducted under DC-CABE’s ‘Design Your Neighbourhood’ programme, which was designed to support community groups looking to improve their local area. We undertook a series of worships, seminars and site visits which culminated in an action plan for making incremental improvements to the town centre and beyond.
BfL12 is gaining momentum and recognition as the industry-standard for assessing design quality in residential developments. TransForm Places have been supporting organisations across the country in training people on the new system, with events in Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham, Kent, and Exeter. We will be running more events this year so keep an eye out for places as demand is high and places are limited.
Our relationship with BOB-MK continues to grow, with TransForm supporting their training and events program each year. This year we ran a BfL12 training session for members of the BOB-Mk network and had a full house. The session included workshops, presentations and a site visit.
Wycombe DC take design quality seriously and have a good track record of implementing national initiatives at the local level. With this in mind, TransForm undertook three training session that brought together officers, elected members and people from the development industry. These sessions concentrated on using BfL12 to improve the quality of development in and around Wycombe and on how BfL12 can be used to better understand how a design is performing.
Looking forward into 2014, we have some absolutely fascinating projects in the pipeline. The University of Northampton is moving to a new location in the town centre, and TransForm Places are working with them to make sure this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture the regeneration benefits of such a large investment is realised. We will keep you up to date on progress. We will also be continuing our involvement with the Didcot SUE, working with all stakeholders as the master plan is developed. In addition to this, we are embarking on Neighbourhood Planning support with a number of communities, and are working with housing providers to help them better engage with their residents.
Of course, we will also be running our usual programme of training with BOB-MK and others, so keep an eye out for events as they are planned.
Finally, on behalf of the team, I’d like to offer my thanks to all of you who have supported our work and allowed us to carry on offering impartial design expertise. Here’s to a good new year.
No, this isn’t some sort of Euclidian homage, nor is it a hat tip to Pythagoras.
What this is is a recognition of the extreme usefulness of the triangle in the urban environment. Oh yes.
If you want to make a public space, forget the square, side-line the circle, and for goodness sake don’t mention the dodecahedron; triangles are where its at. A triangular space enables you see all the edges of the space at the same time and from anywhere within the space, which is great for feelings of safety, but also if you want to line the space with shops and others things than benefit from being seen.
It also allows you to run a route down one side, leaving the rest for other uses but never having any awkward junctions. If you are clever, you can introduce some parking here, making a shared surface to go along with your through-route, and this eliminates some of the conflicts between amenity and functionality.
But they don’t have to be hard, urban spaces – the Great British Villiage has been making great use of the triangle of greens and ponds for ages now. Why haven’t we noticed how good these are?
Let’s have a quick look at some spaces and see how they work, starting in Towcester town centre:
As you can see, this space is busy. I’ve been there; it really is busy and works well, in spite of all the conflicts going on. The traffic is slowed to a more civilised speed, as you never know who will be emerging from the space, be it a car or pedestrian. It serves as a great centre parking area, but can also be used for markets etc. Neat, eh?
Next up, here is a small space from Woodstock. This is for parking, removing the need for dedicated and often inconvenient car parks. It is a pleasant space that does much the same job of that in Towcester, but on a smaller scale. Could work well for residential…just saying.
Finally, here is a green space in Adderbury, again from Oxfordshire. This serves as a public open space, but differs from many new green spaces as it has streets running along all sides. This is a good idea as it means you can still get frontage access to properties whilst increasing surveillance across the green. What is especially nice is that this configuration allows a street hierarchy which lets you gain the benefits of low-grade routes whilst keeping houses ‘shallow’ to the main movement network.
This sort of space endures, adds amenity value, helps with movement and access, and is also very land-efficient. It looks beautiful too. The lesson here is that the triangular configuration can work to do all kinds of jobs, is simple to use. So use them.
Connected developments are, in the main, better developments. Whilst there is such a thing as over permeability, connected movement networks offer a better way of doing things. They have been at the core of best practice for a good while now, so we should be seeing more of them, not less.
However, sometimes things go wrong. In the two examples below, they have gone really wrong. The first example we’d like to show you is from Hamilton, where the developer saw fit to go fencing…
Maybe they had some left over. Maybe there is some kind of joke that we don’t get but which is really very funny. Or maybe an already slightly iffy layout has been messed up even further by a wilfully bad design that took more effort to get wrong than get right.
What we are left with is a garden fence jutting out insanely across the street, severing one from the other and doubtlessly providing a nice graffiti wall in the process. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Next up, have a look at this little beauty, also from Leicester. It took us a while to get our heads round what was going on, as at first glances it looks like it all joins up. But alas our optimism was short-lived; none of the routes around Chainama or Augusta connect and there are fences, bollards and bits of green S.L.A.P* all over the shop to make damn sure you get the message: No. Through. Routes.
This is a shame as what this area sorely needs is to be better connected. The whole area is served by just two points of access and to get anywhere doubtlessly means a car trip. What a waste of time and energy.
As much fun as it is to sit back and poke fun, there is a serious message here; messing up layouts has profound negative long-term effects and there are simply no excuses left in this day and age. You can freely download guides on how to put places together, and the principles behind it are breathtaking in their simplicity.
So please, concentrate on getting this bit right. Good things will follow.
* Space Left Over After Planning: all those cruddy maintenance nightmares that you see dotted about the place in masterplanned developments. No one wants to look after them, they serve no purpose other than to annoy people, and considering the value of land, make no sense at all.
Parking really, really matters. It has a special role in the way places work, and getting it wrong can cause all sorts of problems down the road (pun totally intended). Getting the parking right has the power to animate streets, calm traffic, encourage neighbourliness, deter crime, and improve efficiency. It can’t bring about world peace – yet – but it can even help to give people bigger and better gardens (which we have long suspected is the first step on the road to world peace).
So how do you do it? How do you get to this utopia of the parked vehicle? It probably won’t surprise you to learn that, with the exception of a few special circumstances, there is a simple recipie that can get you most of the way there. For rules of thumb, you could do worse than:
Parking at the back means big areas at the back for…well…parking. This means less space at the back for gardens, less use of front doors, and access into the interior of the block. In 30 years time you just know that the image below will be full of old mattresses, annoying oiks being annoying, litter, weeds, and broken glass. Not nice and totally unnecessary.
Cars on the street act as a natural traffic calming measure, forcing drivers to slow down as the dangers of opening doors and kids running out plays on their minds. It also means you can use your front door, which seems like a good idea as it is normally pretty well placed for, you know, getting in to your house. There is a chance that you will bump in to your neighbours when going to and from your car too, which is (usually) a good thing. Finally, having several thousand pounds worth of shiny ‘ride’ outside in the street makes you more likely to look out of the window if you hear a strange noise as there is the slim chance that someone is taking liberties with your stereo. Who knows? This vigilance might interrupt a crime. You hero.
Keep it informal.
The most efficient forms of parking are unallocated and even unmarked. People are pretty good at getting lots of cars in to small spaces, so where you can you should let people get on with it and spend your time worrying about something else. Of course, this only works if you allow for parking in the first place.
Accept it. Don’t fight it.
Doing so will only upset you when you visit your development to find people parked wheels up on the pavement whilst your lovely parking court sits empty.
If you want to know more then you should read this. Or you could get in touch and we can help.
The second workshop focused on setting the framework for future development. To do this we utilised the site analysis from the first workshop along with the inspiration from the study visit to lay down the parameters for the sites eventual regeneration.
Understanding what has worked in other places is a valuable and powerful tool to help inspire new projects. West Oxford District Council’s Phil Shaw kindly agreed to give a presentation on how new development can be harnessed to deliver a catalysis for economic regeneration. The Marriotts Walk scheme has many features that are regarded as best practice for urban designers, such as a mix of uses including residential, well connected and enjoyable public routes, open spaces and good design detail.
The scheme has helped Witney compete with neighbouring towns, and since opening the town has seen a 15% increase in trade across the whole area. All traders have benefited, and the development has been an unmitigated success story. You can see Phil’s presentation below:
We put together a little selection of examples of what others have done in their towns. Specifically, we wanted to show how larger retail units have been integrated into town centres around the country.
The work we are doing here is just the latest in a long line of initiatives designed to help Tewkesbury enhance it’s competitive edge and maintain its character. We’ll be putting details of past initiatives here when we have a moment, but in the mean time you can phone either Garry or Sue and talk to them about it.
Witney town centre has successfully integrated a large car park with the High Street, and the results are remarkable. The footfall generated is supporting new uses in the lanes and on the car park edge. Developers are creating new premises. New businesses are moving in, and the car park edge is now home to cafes, restaurants and shops. The planting is a major factor in giving the area a mature, quality feel. The supermarket that makes up one side of the new development is integrated sensitively, forming part of the new street rather than sitting apart. Is there scope for something similar in Tewkesbury?
Below are some images from around the town.
You can look around from the air here:
View Larger Map
The first stage of our programme for Spring Gardens / Bishops Walk was to hold a workshop where community ideas could be gathered and best practice could be shared.
The session involved presentations, site visits and workshops including a SWOT analysis that formed the basis of the site analysis.
Also included were examples of best practice from elsewhere to serve as inspiration as to what is possible. Initially the focus was big box retail but as we shall see this soon changed to a mixed scheme with a better balance of uses.
<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_10911707″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/transformplaces/tewkesbury-examples” title=”Tewkesbury examples” target=”_blank”>Tewkesbury examples</a></strong> <iframe src=”http://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/10911707″ width=”425″ height=”355″ frameborder=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe> <div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”> View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/” target=”_blank”>presentations</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/transformplaces” target=”_blank”>transformplaces</a> </div> </div>